seeking comfort

I read this in the Miami Herald this morning:
“Weather alert: Weekend will be cool and breezy
Cool weather will continue Saturday in South Florida with breezy conditions and low temperatures dipping below 70. Highs will be in the mid-70s.”
 
I chuckled to myself. Now that I’ve spent five falls and winters away from my tropical paradise, the concept of “dipping below 70” is quite laughable. But I shouldn’t be so jaded. I know how freeing it is to feel the oppressive Florida humidity that’s stubbornly hung around since April lift from the air, a cool breeze blowing in its wake. Growing up, the first hint of a chill (i.e. in the 60s) was always a cause for celebration: a reason to don a fleece jacket, make a hearty soup, and try to see our breaths fog up in the air (usually to no avail).  

I remember one of these fall-esque nights quite well, naturally because it was tied to food. I was in middle school at the time and watched Rachael Ray’s 30 Minute Meals religiously. I had recently seen her make pumpkin pasta with sausage and sage. At this point in my life, I had never eaten pumpkin outside of my mom’s Thanksgiving pie, but I was intrigued by both the flavor combination and the seeming ability of this dish to bring a bit of autumn into our kitchen. On the first night that a crisp breeze blew through our palm tree laden yard, my dad and I set out to make this pasta dish, and it was divine: creamy, warm, comforting, and totally fall.
 
Since then, I have had a bit of a love affair with pumpkin. My roommates and grocery shopping comrades know that come fall, I stockpile 28-oz cans of Libby’s pumpkin puree as if I’m preparing for the apocalypse. I put it in just about everything, from oatmeal, to yogurt, to soups. But it dawned on me that I hadn’t made pumpkin pasta—my first foray into the pumpkin world—in quite a while. Tonight, at the end of a very long week of school and the beginning of a busy weekend, I was craving some comfort food, and pumpkin pasta was calling my name.
 I used mushrooms instead of sausage, but added fennel, rosemary, and thyme to emulate the sausage spice profile. Although you could add a touch of cream for a bit of richness, I found that just using some white wine and pasta water gave the sauce a great consistency. True to the recipe from which it was inspired, 30 minutes from firing up the stove, I was sitting down to a steaming bowl of pumpkin pasta comfort, comforted by the fact that my return to Miami fall, family, and Thanksgiving are just days away.
 
Pumpkin Pasta with Mushrooms, Fennel, and Sage
2 tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion, sliced thin
1 bulb fennel, sliced thin
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced thin
1 tbsp rosemary, chopped fine
1 tbsp thyme, chopped fine
15 oz. pumpkin puree
1/2 cup white wine
1-2 cups water reserved from cooking pasta
1/2 tsp pumpkin pie spice
3 cups kale, chopped
2 tbsp sage, sliced thin
1/2 lb short pasta (rotini, penne, gemelli, etc.)
Salt and pepper
Parmesan cheese, for serving
Bring water to a boil in a large pot for pasta. Cook pasta for 9-11 minutes, until al dente.
Meanwhile, heat olive oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook for about 5 minutes, until it starts to become translucent. Add fennel and cook another 5 minutes, until onion and fennel start to brown a bit. Add sliced mushrooms and cook for another 7 minutes, until mushrooms soften and onion and fennel get a little caramelized. Add rosemary, thyme, pumpkin pie spice, and a few dashes of salt and allow to cook for 1 minute. Add pumpkin puree, white wine, and about 1 cup of water from the pasta pot (using this water is better than water straight from the tap because the pasta starch in it will provide a bit more thickness to the sauce). Allow to cook for about 3-5 minutes, stirring periodically. Add kale and additional 1/2 cup of pasta water and allow kale to cook until tender, about 3 minutes. Add sage and salt and pepper to taste. If you would like to add more pumpkin pie spice at this point, feel free (I’m a big fan of it so I added a couple more dashes!) Add cooked pasta to the pot and mix everything. Turn off heat. Serve with a sprinkling of parmesan cheese.
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